Lost amid the broadband battles between telco providers and cable operators is the traditional third alternative–satellite delivery of two-way high-speed Internet access. Estimates typically predict that about 46 percent of all U.S. homes won't have any land-based broadband connectivity options, so satellite can really make an impact in the coming years if the players can work past the hurdles that have hampered proliferation thus far. The coming year should see a lot of groundwork being laid to do just that.
The satellite biz is ramping up, and fast, and the very public merger between DBS providers EchoStar and Hughes' DirecTV is bringing satellite broadband back into the consumer fold. Over the next few months, watch Charlie Ergen skillfully maneuver the regulatory gauntlet and get approval for his EchoStar-DirecTV merger. When the deal finally does gain approval, lawmakers (especially ones from rural states) will be watching closely to make sure Ergen follows through on his promises of quick rollout of HDTV and high-speed, two-way services. As cable MSOs consolidate further, regulators will be counting on satellite to give cable service a run for its money... and they'll be expecting EchoStar to live up to its heady promises.
On the technology side, the coming year will mean a continuation of the trend to blend enterprise IP and satellite networks. 2001 saw the end of using the terrestrial local loop as part of the satellite delivery model; two-way broadband satellite Internet terminals from companies like Tachyon are quickly pushing local loop technologies out of the picture for good. New IP/satellite networking gear from firms like ViaCast and International Datacasting are enabling satellite transfer speeds heretofore thought to be unreachable. Combine that with new advances in IP multicasting techniques, and the rise of satellite content delivery technologies, and the coming year should see a ton of multimedia enterprise traffic being beamed via satellite. In the near term, though, only the largest of enterprises will be able to afford to run this kind of Web traffic over satellite networks.
To get down to reasonable price levels for satellite carriage, most of the industry is banking on a switch to Ka-band satellite technology as a remedy. New Ka-band satellites work on a higher frequency than current Ku-band satellites, use advanced "spot beam" technology, and promise much faster upload and download speeds.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Ka-band technology likely will not be available in 2002; it's probably coming in 2003 or 2004. Companies like Denver-based WildBlue Communications (interestingly, backed by Ergen's EchoStar) plan to launch Ka-band satellites in 2002. Others, like Telsat Canada, are ramping up Ka-band technology as well, but in 2002, it'll simply be testing applications on current Ku-band satellites that they eventually plan on transitioning to Ka-band in the future.
For the near term, though, satellite seems to be stuck with the clunky Ku-band satellites floating overhead. That should be enough of a foundation for the industry to build a prosperous future upon.